Many Ways to Say “I” in Japanese Explained

A while ago, I made a silly video about different ways to say “I” in Japanese.

Some people have asked me in what context each expression is used, so I have decided to explain that in this article!

Hope this is helpful for you 🙂

Also… if you like this kind of video, please follow my YouTube channel, too. That will definitely make my day!!!

私(わたし Watashi): The most standard “I” in Japanese. The textbook definition!

私(わたくし Watakushi): This is a more polite version of “watashi”. As you may have noticed, the kanji for “watashi” and “watakushi” is the same “私”.

僕(ぼく Boku): This “I” is usually used by a male speaker regardless of his age. When used by an adult, it is usually with someone with an equal or a lower social standing. In recent years (especially in the manga context), some women use “boku” to address themselves as well.

俺(おれ Ore): Casual “I” used by men. It is only used with someone in the same or lower social standing or someone who is really close such as family members. This is my default “I” with my parents and older sister. I have met some non-native speakers of Japanese who think this is an impolite expression, but this is not the case as it completely depends on the context and its use is often a show of closeness to the person.

俺様(おれさま Oresama): This is the arrogant version of “ore”. I have never heard of this expression in real life except when someone is being silly on purpose. You might encounter this expression in books particularly in comic books 🙂

自分(じぶん Jibun): A formal “I”. According to this dictionary website, it was originally used as a second-person personal pronoun during the Edo period (1603-1868). In Osaka dialect, it is used to address a close friend i.e. it can also mean “you”! Confusing, isn’t it?

当方(とうほう Touhou): Wow, my sincere apology, this expression actually means “we”!!! I accidentally included it as it literally means “this side” or “the group I belong to”… but it should really be treated as “we” because the person is talking about the group s/he belongs to as a representative… Sorry!!! (You now know Japanese people don’t always know Japanese!)

身共(みども Midomo): This is a formal “I” used towards someone in the equal or lower social status.

手前(てまえ Temae): This is a humble way to refer yourself. But the confusing thing is that it could also be used to mean “you” towards someone in the same or lower social status. For this use, its variation てめえ (teme’e) is often used, but remember it is a very rude expression!

おら (Ora): This “I” is usually used in the Tohoku region. It is mainly used by men, but it is used by some old women as well.

俺っち (おれっち Orecchi): A casual and almost uncouth “I”. Not many people actually use this expression, but you do hear it spoken by some stereotypical characters in drama, manga, etc. Some people say it is the short version of “俺達” (おれたち Oretachi) or “we”.

あっし (Asshi): This is often used in “jidaigeki” or a period drama. It is often used by the craftsmen of Edo.

あたし (Atashi): Informal “I” used by women. It was used by men as well during the Edo period (1603-1868), and rakugo performers still use this expression even today. I use it myself with my rakugo friends.

あたい (Atai): This “I” feels a little archaic to me, but it is used by little children and sometimes by adult women. “Atai” is used by Yotaro, one of the star characters in rakugo!

拙者(せっしゃ): This is the “I” used by samurai warriors. You still hear it a lot in period dramas!

わし (Washi): This is a variation of “watashi” used with someone in the same or lower social status. It can sound a bit arrogant.

我 (われ Ware): This is a formal “I” that shows up often in Japanese literature, and I have never met anyone who uses this “I” in conversation.

余 (よ Yo): An archaic “I” used by the feudal lords and samurai warriors in high social status.

朕 (ちん chin): “I” only used by the emperor!

Eishi’s Rakugo Commentary No.3 [Nopperabo のっぺらぼう]

[You can watch this rakugo story at the bottom of this post. Please let me know what you think of it!!!]

In my personal opinion, this is one of the uniquest rakugo stories of all.

This is not because it is a pure ghost story with very little laughter but mainly because it was inspired by a story written by Lafcadio Hearn or better known in Japan as Koizumi Yakumo (小泉 八雲 1850-1904).

The story of Nopperabo had already existed as folktales before his writing, but it was him who made it famous.

In 1850, Patrick Lafcadio Hearn was born in Greece to a Greek mother and an Irish father. Due to family complications, he moved to Dublin and then to the United States where he worked as a newspaper reporter.

As a correspondent, he was sent to French West Indies for 2 years, and then finally ended up in Japan where he spent the rest of his life.

He got married with a Japanese woman and became a Japanese citizen himself.

He is the reason why I am so attached to this story.

Someone from overseas bothered enough to learn, live, and love the Japanese way, and he shared his learning with the west and ended his life as a Japanese citizen.

I feel so closely to this man perhaps because I am in a little similar situation myself as someone who has spent more than half of his life overseas and married to a non-Japanese woman.

Whenever I perform this story, I think of him, and I feel immensely honoured to carry on with his story.

Going back to the story itself, it had already existed as I mentioned earlier.

There is a mention about Nopperabo in Sorori Monogatari (曽呂利物語 そろりものがたり) in 1663.

The fascinating thing about this particular Nopperabo is that he was over 2m tall!!!

In general, people believed that animals such as foxes, racoon dogs, or mujina (Japanese badgers) turned into Nopperabo and tricked humans.

In Koizumi’s version, the culprit was a mujina.

You can read the original story here on The Project Gutenberg website. As you can see, the term “Nopperabo” is somehow not used in his story.

Now you can watch Nopperabo below and see how the original evolved into a rakugo story.

References

のっぺらぼう

Lafcadio Hearn

Secrets Hidden in Japanese Names

One of the most common questions I get asked while living overseas is what my real name Hiroshi means.

My usual answer is something like, “Hiroshi could mean many different things, but my name means to ‘break through life with ambition’.”

As you wise readers may know, the meaning of a Japanese name is not determined by its sound but the kanji or Chinese characters used in the name.

In the old days in Japan, most people didn’t bother spending hours referring to the ancient myths or fortune tellers to come up with the perfect names for their precious babies.

The first sons/ daughters often had a kanji character “一” (one) in their names. The second children “二” (two), the third “三” (three), and so on.

My grandpa was the third son of the family, so his name was “三都彦” (Mitsuhiko). As you can see, the kanji “三” (three) is used.

Two of the superstar characters in rakugo are Hachigoro (八五郎) and Kumagoro (熊五郎).

You may have noticed, but the kanji character “五” (five) is used in both of their names.

That’s right. They were probably the fifth sons of the family.

So… what does this imply?

In the past, the first sons were the sole heirs of the family unless there were special reasons why they couldn’t act as the head of the family.

Inevitably, they received preferential treatments from their family and were sometimes even spoiled by their parents and relatives.

However, the second sons onward were just the supporting acts for the first sons.

What usually happened in the countryside in particular was to send non-heir sons to Edo (Tokyo), Osaka, or other large cities so that they would find their own means of supporting themselves.

So the names Hachigoro and Kumagoro imply that they were sort of outcasts whom their families probably didn’t care much about.

Rakugo is the art of the commoners.

Rakugo performers during the Edo period (1603-1868) did not even belong to the four social classes of the day: samurai warriors, farmers, artisans, and merchants in the order of importance.

In fact, they belong to the “non-human” status.

Rakugo was an interpretation of this world from the rock bottom of the society.

This is what makes rakugo immensely human.

Rotten Limbs and The Japanese Art of Tenacious Wish-Making

Hi all, Eishi here! How’s your week going so far?

The one-eyed ornament on my rakugo cushion above is called a daruma.

The word “daruma” is from a Sanskrit word dharma, which means the “cosmic law and order” as revealed by the Buddha.

It’s said that this Japanese lucky charm was inspired by the famous Shaolin monk, Bodhidharma, who is often regarded as the founder of Chan Buddhism in China.

“Chan”, by the way, is “Zen” in Japanese.

I don’t know if it’s true, but a legend goes that Bodhidharma pursued zen until his limbs rotted- this is why daruma ornaments don’t have their limbs.

Daruma is often seen as an incarnation of tenacity, and it is associated with a Japanese saying “Nanakorobi Yaoki” (七転び八起き ななころびやおき ), which means “Fall down seven times, get up eight.”

Because of this origin, it is often used to make a wish in Japan.

“Making a wish” might sound a bit light, so it is more like setting a goal that you really want to accomplish and ask something beyond our understanding for a guidance.

Here are the steps we normally follow:

Step 1: Enter daruma’s LEFT eye as you make a wish.

Step 2: Work hard and achieve the goal.

Step 3: Enter daruma’s RIGHT eye.

Step 4: Return daruma to a temple/ shrine to be consecrated and burned.

* It is recommended to be returned at the end of the year whether you have accomplished your goal or not.

So… I brought my daruma to New Zealand about a decade ago.

My goal was quite vague, but it was to stand at the starting line as a performer.

Though I have performed on many, many stages, I didn’t feel like I was quite there yet (Japanese stoicism speaking).

But when the lockdown started, I suddenly felt like I was finally ready to start the race.

I think I am ready.

So I finally filled my drauma’s right eye.

I am just about to begin the new chapter of my life as a performer!

I will take my daruma home when I can finally visit Japan after all this is over 🙂

Portuguese Words That Became Japanese- There Are More Than You Think!

Some time ago, I was listening to a rakugo story called “Gamano Abura” (蝦蟇の油 がまのあぶら) and came across a word that I did not understand.

The word was “manteika” (マンテイカ).

It made no sense whatsoever to me.

I looked up the word in my beloved rakugo dictionary (yes, there is such a thing!) and finally found out the meaning!

Of course, I didn’t understand it because it was a Portuguese word that meant “butter” (manteiga).

But in Japan, manteika meant fat from inoshishi (猪 いのしし; Japanese wild boars) or pigs, and it was used as an ointment for medical purposes.

You may not be aware of how crucial Portugal was to Japan as these two countries are literally located on the opposite sides of the word- the west end of Europe and Far East.

In 1543, the Portuguese arrived in Japan and became the first westerners to land on the country of the rising sun (some theory says it was actually 1541). They even introduced us to… guns.

Soon after in 1549, the Spanish missionaries followed and brought Christianity to Japan. Therefore, Portugal and Spain became our first portals to the western world. As Portugal was under the Spanish rule between 1581 and 1640, they were sort of under the same umbrella back then.

Naturally, the Japanese language was influenced by Portuguese/ Spanish from very early on.

“Tempura” was originally a Portuguese word as well. It was from “tempero”. The Portuguese introduced the deep frying technique to Japan, so tempura was originally NOT a Japanese dish.

Here are other Portuguese words that have become Japanese, which we still use today:

Buranko (ブランコ; from balanço) = swing

Furasuko (フラスコ; from frasco) = flask (for experiment)

Jouro (じょうろ; from jarro) = watering can

Kappa (かっぱ; from capa) = rain jacket

Karuta (カルタ; from carta) = a kind of Japanese card game

Japanese women playing karuta (circa 1900)

Konpeitou (こんぺいとう 金平糖; from confeito) = Japanese sweets as in the photo below

Konpeitou (こんぺいとう 金平糖)

Koppu (コップ; from copo) = cup

Miira (ミイラ; from mirra) = mummy (as in an Egyptian mummy, not a British mummy 😉 )

Shabon (シャボン; from sabão) = bubbles from soap

REFERENCE

日本語になったポルトガル語

日本とポルトガルの関係

PHOTO CREDIT

Midori / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

A Talking Horse and the Tragic End of a Rakugo Founder

Hi everybody, Eishi here! How’s your day going?

As usual, here’s another quirky history lesson that you might enjoy.

It is about one of the founders of rakugo, the Japanese traditional art of comic storytelling.

Before moving onto the story of a talking horse, here’s a little history lesson for you.

The rakugo tradition began at Seigan Temple (誓願寺 せいがんじ) in Kyoto.

The head monk of this temple, Anrakuan Sakuden (安楽庵策伝 あんらくあんさくでん, 1554-1642), was a well-known raconteur of the day.

He compiled a joke book called “Seisuishou” (醒酔笑 せいすいしょう) with over 1,000 kobanashi (小噺 こばなし) or short stories. This 8-book series was published in 1623.

It is generally agreed that he was the founder of rakugo.

Then, this art was introduced to Osaka and initially developed as a form of street performance, incorporating lively music and wooden blocks (used like slapsticks) to get the attention of the passerby.

In Edo/ Tokyo, rakugo developed mainly as an “indoor art” that was performed in dedicated yose or rakugo theatres and zashiki or Japanese traditional rooms with tatami mattresses, paper screens, etc.

The founder of Edo Rakugo was Shikano Buzaemon (鹿野武左衛門 しかのぶざえもん).

He is the hero of the sad story I’m about to tell you.

In 1693, cholera was widespread in Japan and claimed many people’s lives.

In this national emergency, a ronin (a samurai without his master) and a greengrocer plotted a scam to get money off innocent people.

They tried to carry out their cunning plan by telling people a story something like this:

There once was a talking horse.

One day, this wise horse prophesied that nandina and Japanese plums will protect you from the plague!

We happened to have a lot of those!

Buy one, get one free!

It’s a very timely story right now, but as you can see it was not a very believable scheme.

Soon they got arrested, and the ronin was executed, and the greengrocer was sent to a remote island.

Now, these criminals confessed that they got the idea of a talking horse from Shikano Buzaemon’s book…

For this reason, he was also sent to Izu Ohshima Island (伊豆大島 いずおおしま) and died there…

What a terrible end for someone who established rakugo in Edo!!!

Rakugo performers have to be careful about what kind of stories they tell…

Hope you enjoyed this little history lesson!

If you did, please follow my YouTube channel as well.

Even though I have been sharing these stories here, my real intention is to make them into videos like the ones below.

I unfortunately can’t produce videos during the lockdown because I have my little imps aka kids hovering all over the place…

It’s only a click away to help my rakugo career. Thank you very much for your continued support!!!

Reference

落語「通」検定 社団法人落語協会